Pop Culture Princess

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Cinderella loses an opportunity to break the glass slipper ceiling

One of the big film releases this weekend is Disney's live action version of Cinderella, starring Downton Abbey's Lily James in the title role with Cate Blanchett playing her wicked stepmother and Helena Bonham-Carter as her fairy godmother.

Top that off with Kenneth Branagh in the director's chair and this certainly sounds like a top notch production, based on the fancy sets and costumes alone. However, according to most of the reviews of this fairy tale flick, you could get more substance from a can of French vanilla frosting than from this lightweight revamp of an iconic princess story.

Apparently, Cate Blanchett's turn in the villainess chair borders on the campy(the NYT calls her acting here "near-vaudevillian" which is not  meant as a compliment, folks) but even with a dash of backstory added in, her character is as old hat as the rest of the cast.

 Cinderella gets an early "meet-cute" with the prince and some mild intrigue to stall the inevitable shoe fitting but otherwise, it's business as usual. Also, is it just me or is her dress way too blue there?

Before you wonder why I'm hating on Disney princess goodness, let me just say that my ire is mainly against the lack of creativity being taken here. I enjoyed the original Disney cartoon version and several of the reimagings of this story which crosses many cultural lines. Given the trend towards redefining fantasy heroines that the Big D has been on lately, this candy coated retread seems like a severe step back:

Just last year, we had Maleficent, which had the same amount of hype and hoopla(not to mention huge production budget and star power) and yet it managed to take a new tact with the tried and true material. The movie did very well at the box office and on home video, so there's proof that this does work, financially at least.

 That live action film came on the heels of animated successes Frozen and Brave, both of which had heroines who found their purpose through meaningful relationships with the women in their families rather than a handsome prince.

 Heck, even Tangled(the animated version of Rapunzel) delivered a leading lady with some sass who fought back against her captor. All of them also gave their audiences plenty of romance, laughs and fantasy fun when needed in their stories, so what gives here? Granted, some found objections to the dark tone brought about by these fictional re-fittings yet when seen in context, they do suit the story and give these old time tales a much needed modern twist:

It's not like anyone hasn't done a fresh take on the Cinderella story before. Since this story is public domain, many writers and film makers have this this tired old pumpkin into a dazzling coach of entertaining ideas.

 A few fine examples include Gregory Maquire's 1999 novel Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister(which was made into a TV movie in 2002), 1998's  Ever After with Drew Barrymore having Leonardo Da Vinci as her non-magical yet helpful godparent stand in and Marissa Meyer's Cinder, that turns our heroine into a cyborg freedom fighter.

One of my favorites is Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted, which had it's main character trapped under a "gift of obedience" spell by a well meaning but deluded fairy godmother. Ella had to go through a series of adventures in order to find her way to personal freedom and yes, even had a prince for her to fall in love on her own terms as well. Sadly, the movie version went the goofy route but leading lady Anne Hathaway does sing beautifully in it and offers a little personality to the part:

Look, I'm sure that plenty of families will be taking their kids to see the new Cinderella this weekend and I hope they have a good time. There's nothing wrong with a little light entertainment every now and then.

I just wish that Disney had gone a different way on this. A classic story can be fun and socially forward thinking,too. It's like they felt the need to pander to certain voices who clamor for more "traditional" depictions of kid friendly fare. This applies to grown-up movies,too, since now we apparently have to have a "boy" version of Ghostbusters to counteract the new "girl" remake coming up soon.

Disney has been making small yet sure steps towards empowering their princess heroines over the years, from Ariel to Jasmine to Belle(plus non-fairy female leads like Pocahontas and Mulan) and for Cinderella to not be able to crack that glass ceiling with her glass slipper, is simply a shame. We need better,Disney, we deserve better, so get to stepping with this sad same old story:

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